Arty-Fartiness And A Celebration Of The Naked Female Form

image4One of the best parts about this stage of life is having the time, finally, to concentrate on what we love doing; the ability to explore new avenues and discover new passions. And if you’re not one of ‘those that can’, it’s just as pleasurable to appreciate the passionate endeavors of others, stand in their shade, and lap up their success.

I was invited to view an art exhibition the other night. Three female artists (Jane Park, Laurie McKern, and Petra Pinn), and one male artist, Evert Ploeg (whose work is represented at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra), get together weekly, on Monday Nights, (hence the name of the exhibition), to paint the naked female form. The exhibition included framed pieces, canvases as well as sketches of their experimentation and exploration of the process.

Those of us that can’t draw or paint stood back and secretly wept with envy at the talent on display by the four artists, who had not only depicted the female form in all its glory and strength but had also created an intimate backdrop for the event, with a distinctly South Amercian flavor. As Jose strummed Spanish music on his guitar in the background and a gorgeous life model lit up a makeshift stage – in top hat and garters, and very little else – it was difficult not to imagine yourself in nineteenth-century Valencia.

Sadly, my purse doesn’t stretch to the price tag of real art (that’s the problem with being married to a tightarse/heathen), yet something else stopped me from my typical impulse buy compulsions, and it bothered me. image2

I identified it as I ummed and ahhed over whether it was appropriate for me to approach the young model to ask for her photo. Stupidly, I worried that she might think I was some seedy older woman about to exploit her, in much the same way how I sensed the old man might feel if any one of the images of strong, semi-naked females appeared on a wall at home.

Like many men, he’s not as comfortable with the naked female form, or indeed femininity, as perhaps he should be for a man of his age.

Many men associate imagery of naked women with sex, porn and desire and some struggle not to objectify it. It is an attitude that we need to change if we are to alter the culture of the abuse of women and domestic violence, and perhaps by making art such as this more accessible, we can change that attitude. Another way – of which I am a staunch supporter – is by getting more penises on the screen and in the media, and ahem, fewer under boardroom tables.

image1As a side note, my friend and I were reassured to spot the preponderance of lush female bush in the depictions of the younger models – a sign (we hope) that this ridiculous concept of shaving everything off down below is finally demode.

‘Perhaps that’s because the models are South American?’ she queried.

‘But isn’t that where the Brazilian originated,’ I asked her, confused.

Of course, shaving off your bush is every woman’s choice and thereby wholeheartedly approved of by feminists such as myself; the only caveat being that women are doing for their own reasons rather than for men who struggle with the distinction between real life and porn.

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This piece, by Jane Park (Instagram page is at Janeparkart.com), was my favorite of the evening – possibly because it reminded me of how I look in the morning – and I seriously contemplated buying it to hang over our bed to terrify the old man. Had I been brave enough, I am certain that it would have forced him into the spare room, once and for all.

18 Penises Next Time, Please

Body
Body (Photo credit: Wendy Nelson Photography.)

The great thing about genitals is that they get people talking.

I know that if I put the word ‘penis’ in my headline, for example, my number of views will increase.

The continued fascination with and criticism of women’s bodies churns on – we are still being told what parts we can show, what we can’t show, what we can wear and how we should represent ourselves. From the hijab to the mini skirt, women are judged by how they look.

Not so, men.

Look at the reaction to THAT performance of Miley’s last week. Although I can’t defend her blatantly sexual ‘twerking’ moves because, (whether she likes it or not), she is a role model to young girls, male musicians have been dancing suggestively since time immemorial and no-one seemed to mind too much. Think of the uproar Elvis caused when he began shaking his hips, but he wasn’t accused of being a tramp. Yet when a woman demonstrates her sexuality or desire, it is met with a sense of revulsion.

Women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex, are they? 

How much longer will the genders be judged by such very double standards?

We all have our opinions about nudity, objectification and sexualisation but I love it when something more humorously controversial stirs the feminism pot, provoking a cat fight in the media.

The image of eighteen vulvas on the cover of the Sydney University magazine, Honi Soit, did just that.

Evidently, ‘one’ vulva wouldn’t have sent a strong enough message.

You can see the image here.

The aim of the editors’ was to demonstrate that women are fed up of female genitals being ‘sexualised and stigmatised’ and for men to understand that real vulvas do not look like the waxed and de-labia-ed versions that many men expect from ogling them on porn – (which is apparently how our male teenagers are now sourcing their sexual education). The magazine set out to prove that the vulva is just like any other body part.

But there weren’t eighteen penises for us to measure and compare too.

We discussed our personal reaction to the cover at the family dinner table, (as you do) and once Kurt and the old man had popped off for a furtive gander of aforementioned vulvas, followed by the predictable reaction of ‘they’re gross’, (proving where they got their sexual education), our reactions differed considerably.

Out of a sexual context, the boys thought the vulvas were uninteresting, quite ugly really. Nerd Child felt that the image was as liberating as the magazine had intended.

The cover certainly set the cat among the pigeons. The original cover with the vulvas on full display was deemed too obscene and controversial even for a student magazine to publish, so the editors were made to block out the offending vulvas with black bars, out of fear of litigation. Somehow (!) the offensive original cover made its way to the printing press and was released, and the rest is history.

My initial reaction to the image was one of gratitude. I have never seen another vulva up close and personal, and like many women of my generation I too had begun to believe the hype that ALL women now have Brazilians and perfectly formed labia. It was also reassuring, upon close examination, to see that like penises and breasts, vulvas are all so VERY different and individual in their own way.

It seems you can still be educated in your forties.

I cancelled my impending Brazilian and the old man’s Father’s Day present of a back, sack and crack immediately.

Nevertheless something bothered me about that image. I’m no prude but I question if that image didn’t serve to titillate rather than make people think. And was it really necessary? Men aren’t told what is appropriate for their bodies. Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right in this country, so why did this magazine feel the need to draw attention to women’s rights in such an intimate way?

How come we didn’t get eighteen penises to gawp at? And if we had, would they have made the headlines too?

As the editors wrote in the cover article, women ‘are tired of being pressured to be sexual and then shamed for being sexual.’

I certainly agree with that point.

If the image did successfully highlight the fact that women shouldn’t have to conform to the ridiculous ideal of body perfection that the media persist in promoting, great. The worry is, of course, that the cover merely provided another Benny Hill moment for men.

The main aim of the image was to take away the shame about women’s genitalia – personally, I have never felt ashamed of mine. I don’t believe that every man wants every woman’s vulva to be landscaped and perfectly shaped just as I don’t think that every man’s penis is 10” long and permanently erect.

As a biology lesson, it was interesting. As a stand against objectification and sexism, I’m not so sure.

Give me an image of 18 penises next time, please, and I’ll decide then just how effective the idea was for making a stand for women’s rights.

Embracing the F Word in Middle Age

Forgive me, readers, for I am about to commit a cardinal blogging sin with a ‘rant’ post.

I don’t do these often because I know you read my blog for some non-cerebral, light relief, but I am fed up of being verbally constipated on this particular subject, out of fear of alienation.

I need to get this mother*cker out.

You see, this week, at the age of forty-seven, I finally realized that I am a feminist. I have finally embraced the F word in middle age.

Was that ‘About f*cking time’ I heard you say?

Embracing the F Word In Middle AgeWhat can I say? I’m a late-developer. The great thing about life though, is it’s never too late to embrace new ideas, is it?

Of course Feminism is not exactly a new idea – I just never truly understood the underpinning implications of it before – for which I must humbly apologize and grovel to  Suffragettes and Bra-burners alike.

I have obviously always been a feminist, I just didn’t know it until now.

Unfortunately, I am not a literary wordsmith on the topic like Helen Razer or Anne Summers, but I do have opinions that matter, and I can and do identify with their beliefs. So indulge me, dear readers, and allow me to vent (in my own simplistic way) on my opinion of feminism in Australia today.

Firstly, how do I know that I’ve always been a feminist?

Simple. Because I’ve always believed in women having the same rights as men. In fact, the reason it took me so bloody long to realize that I was a closet Feminist, is because I naively assumed that women already had equal rights to men.

Derrrr!

The truth of it is, I may have actually been a teensy bit afraid of swearing my allegiance to feminists before, because I had this crazily warped stereotype in my head of what a feminist was – my most dangerous assumption being that they hated men. And I rather like men.

There are, in fact, many male feminists and many feminists that like men.

‘Feminism is not anti men. It’s anti-arseholes, misogynists, pricks, creeps, thugs and bigots.’ Catherine Deveny

But in any important movement, extremism can be a problem. There will always be radical, impassioned members at its core – we witnessed extreme Islam in Woolwich only last week. Often, the most militant members of a group are the ones that actually get anything done, and so unless they resort to violence to get their point across, I embrace and admire their fervency. However, occasionally that passion can become warped and turn to fanaticism, which comes at a price. Not only cost to life, but it can deter other, less confrontational followers from campaigning and supporting the group on its behalf. To remain powerful, a group needs members.

There have certainly been many times in my life where I have been a victim of sexism, have heard demeaning references to women, have witnessed the objectification of women in the media and seen their exploitation in pornography. Who can be unaware  of the levels of violence against women that still happen in Australia?

Six factors finally changed my perspective on feminism:

  • Julia Guillard’s ‘misogyny speech’ and witnessing the way in which she has been treated since taking on the role as the first female prime-minister
  • The increasing misrepresentation and objectification of women in the media
  • The effect that objectifying women has on the developing minds and attitudes on boys towards women
  • My increasing involvement in writing for women
  • Getting older and wiser and intolerant to bigotry and finding my ‘voice’
  • My daughter; who I am proud to say, is a staunch feminist at the age of eighteen

Last week I attended the ‘Women and Power’ debate at the Sydney Writers Festival, via the Griffith Review, and headed up by Anne Summers, Mary Delahunty, Chris Wallace, Yassmin Abdel-Magied and Julianne Schulz.

I don’t know what I was expecting from the debate, but I came away resolved in my  militancy. The impassioned debate ended in a call to arms for women to be more proactive in their challenge against inequality, because although there have been obvious successes in the battle for equal rights, there is still a lot of work to be done.

A lot of young women believe that equality in Australia is ‘done and dusted.’

Successes have obviously been celebrated in the previous waves of feminism in Australia, thanks to women such as Germaine Greer and Anne Summers, but these experts believe that a new wave of male supremacy is forming, due in part to the influence of the media (and particularly social media) and the continued lack of equality in the workplace.

Raising a teenage daughter, I have believed for a while now, that there is a distinct regression in the attitudes of some younger men towards women, and that misogynistic behavior is following suit. (Is Social Media Killing Teenage Relationships?)

We need to educate our sons to be respectful of women.

The apathy towards feminism by our younger generations of women (although it has recently regained some traction with the ‘Destroying The Joint’ debate led by Jane Caro) may be because they believe that they already have equal rights. Or maybe it is simply too hard? And of course the infrastructure to support women in the work place is still negligible.

So what can women do?

Women need to resume the fight and keep pushing back. They need to fight for quotas in the workplace to override the continuing sexism and hold of the old boy networks. There are still very few women in the top corporate tiers, and more and more women are choosing to opt out of corporate life altogether (due to the difficulty of climbing the corporate ladder) to take other options. Where will our voice be then?

Don’t be afraid to use the F word like I was.

Rally for Women’s health- National Mall by Amber Wilkie at http://www.flickr.com